This week, I want to expound on a series of unrelated events shaping our world:
Last year, a deluge of rain in Australia and Canada, and drought in Argentina and Russia sparked a worldwide rise in food prices. On Dec. 17th, after months of poor supply, Tunisian produce vendor Mohammed Bouazizi was mugged by police and then set himself on fire in protest. Reaction to his plight set off a revolt in the Middle East. Beyond the radar to us overly indulgent Americans is that the world is on the verge of a global food shortage.
Ironically, the U.S. growers have reaped the rewards of higher prices for U.S crops and futures contracts. Wheat prices were up as much as 74%, (corn 87%[i]) and net farm income is up 20% this year. Demand is rising for dairy, meat and poultry to support a burgeoning global middle class.[ii] Spring planting of key crops will dictate food prices later in 2011 but farmers may be hesitant to plant in a period of high fuel and fertilizer costs.
While unrest continues throughout the Middle East, social states who provide strong entitlements such as UAB, Kuwait and Oman will likely not be threatened. Similar protests in oil rich Iran or Iraq would be more unsettling to world markets.
As Motorola revealed its Xoom tablet this week, the Microsoft vs. Apple war took on a new dimension. The real war may be tablet vs. PC as a new generation of devices operating on Honeycomb-Android (Google) and other operating systems hit the market[iii]. Electronics makers are currently developing over 100 designs of new models, many of which sport more business friendly applications.
The second generation of iPads has been somewhat under wraps but is expected to be lighter, faster and include a camera and video conferencing capabilities. Apple’s advantage is its burgeoning iTunes and App Exchange platform. Apple only spends about 7% of revenue on R&D, about half of what Google and Microsoft[iv] spend, providing a significant competitive advantage. I was in a meeting last week with 7 other people; everyone had a tablet.
Meanwhile, Microsoft (Office 365) and others are developing new Small Business Enterprise applications to better leverage the combination of mobile devices and low cost cloud computing options. The paradigm shift to storing all documents on the internet is emerging as a revolution coined as “cloud productivity.”
Cisco’s new “telepresense” conferencing systems are all the rage, providing a far more realistic teleconference then the 1st generation systems. With concerns over fuel costs and the environment, more companies may be moving towards adopting such technologies.
If you want to see an amazing video on future technologies, see “A Day Made of Glass…Made Possible by Corning” on YouTube.
It is expected that the U.S. post office will eliminate Saturday delivery by the end of 2012.
It is “hurry up and wait” for small businesses looking to minimize their insurance costs. The health care bill requires that each state set up “health care exchanges” by 2014[v]. Most states are dragging their feet, and waiting to see what legal challenges emerge. California has already pushed through legislation but other states are dragging behind.
It is expected that “exchanges” once enacted may actually bring about market conditions that will lower costs for small groups (in the neighborhood of 50 lives) who will be better able to leverage buying power and have more predictable premiums. Let us pray.
[i] Hungry for a Solution Bloomberg Business Week 2/11/11
[ii] The Kiplinger Letter Vol 88 No.
[iii] Motorola’s Xoom Starts Tablet Wars by Walter Mossberg WSJ 2/24/11
[iv] Mobile Wars Bloomberg Business Week 2/21/11
[v] The Kiplinger Letter Vol. 88, No. 7